Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
Mirna Nava felt the weight of the world pressing down on her eight years ago.
The west Phoenix resident needed a new roof on her home to replace the one damaged by a storm. But then another storm tossed her life around.
“My mom was diagnosed with cancer. I lived for two years in the hospital,” Nava said.
And then a bit of sunshine broke through those storm clouds: She heard that Habitat for Humanity was going to help fix that pressing need in her home.
“When they called and said they were going to do the roof repair, that was a blessing.”
Her mom, who never once asked, “Why is this happening to me?” told her daughter, “This is a reminder that God is still here."
"She was just calm. She had peace. She knew everything was going to be OK,” Nava said on Friday from the front yard of her home on the 3600 block of West Medlock Avenue.
It was where Habitat for Humanity returned for the second time -- this time with Grand Canyon University and Grand Canyon Education volunteers -- as part of Operation Revival, the neighborhood revitalization project that Habitat and GCU launched in 2015. The initiative has provided more than $2.2 million in home repairs for 246 families in the Canyon Corridor, with 4,302 employees and students having volunteered to work on those homes for 21,853 hours.
“This is what GCU lives by -- faith,” said Andrea Northup, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona Faith Relations Manager and a GCU alumna. She looked at Nava and expressed how volunteers don’t necessarily talk about that faith or love of their neighbors when they’re busy holding a paintbrush or shovel at Habitat home repair projects. But they do it, Northup told Nava, with what they do.
“We’re saying, ‘Hey, we SEE you, and we want to step alongside you with that," she said.
About two dozen volunteers arrived at 6:15 a.m. for the July work call, kicking off the day with an orientation and, as is the call of the day with all GCU’s Habitat volunteer opportunities, a morning prayer.
Half the volunteers remained to paint the Nava home, including GCU Provost Dr. Hank Radda’s academic leadership team.
“We had time. It’s a little slower in the summer for us,” Radda said of the reason why he gathered his team to volunteer as he taped windows in the backyard before the painting began.
It was the second time his team of deans bonded over a Habitat project. “We try to do this once a year. I love just hanging out with the team and meeting folks in the neighborhood. It’s fun,” he added, and he feels this way even though the July Habitat project can be the hottest volunteer opportunity of the year -- temperatures on Friday reached 112 degrees.
Radda remembers that first Habitat project. When the team started, the owners of the home left to drop off their children at school. The fun part was when the children returned from school to see what looked like a brand new house.
“Seeing them come home … that was pretty neat,” he recalls of the surprise on the children’s faces.
By 7 a.m., College of Fine Arts and Production Dean Claude Pensis busied himself painting the trim on the front of the Nava home.
“I have done my share of painting in theatre,” Pensis said with a smile, though this time around, he wasn’t preparing a set but helping someone maintain their most important investment -- their home. “I have seen the community for about 30-plus years (Pensis has taught at GCU for 37 years and is GCU's longest-serving employee), so it’s really nice to be able to be part of the revitalization and give back.”
Colangelo College of Business Program Manager Erin Boling also loves the idea of community: “I like supporting the community, and a home is an important part of someone’s family. I like supporting that and creating something new.”
A second team of GCU volunteers fanned out to the home of Roberto Torres on the 3000 block of Mariposa, so close to the University that volunteers could see the campus’ buildings rising like a backdrop behind the ruddy orange and red colored home decorated with clay suns and a water fountain trickling in the front yard.
This was the third time Habitat has come out to the Torres family home, after helping with paint, windows and backyard landscaping in previous trips.
The call of the day: landscaping the front and side of the home.
Dennis Williams, who works in Institutional Effectiveness for the Honors College, shoveled landscaping rock into barrels and moved the rock onto the Torres’ front yard alongside CCOB Dean Dr. Randy Gibb and employees in the Honors College and Public Relations and Communications office.
Was the work as hard as he thought it would be?
“Yeah ... it’s work!” Williams said with a laugh.
It was the first time he participated in a Habitat project. He said he had heard about GCU’s partnership with the home-building organization and all the great things they do.
“I talked to Roberto and got some ideas of some of the finishing touches here. He’s really going in and liking the way that it’s looking, so that’s what it’s all about.”
Torres is a self-employed taxi driver for Yellow Cab during the week but also has a side business on the weekends, renting out inflatable bounce houses, slides, chairs and tables for children’s parties.
“Tomorrow’s my busy day,” he said. “I’m always working -- seven days a week,” and he was thrilled to have Habitat and GCU come out. He and his family did the work on their own the last time they changed out the rock.
“It was hard work,” he said as he looked at the new rock being smoothed out on his front lawn and the green cloud Texas sage being planted in his yard: “I love it,” he said. “They’re doing a great job.”
And like at the Nava family home, volunteers were reminded of how these projects are all about faith and friendship as they glanced at the front door of the Torres home, where a plaque, in Spanish, said, “In the home, where there is faith, there is love/ Where there is love, there is peace/ Where there is peace, there is God/ Where there is God, there is no need.”
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.